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Research Projects

RCUK Digital Economy £1.9m (Value to University of Dundee: £354,082) 06.2010 – 05.2013


Chance Encounters in the Space of Ideas

Main project collaborators

Mel Woods, DJCAD, University of Dundee (Principal Investigator)
Prof Ruth Aylett, Heriot-Watt University (Co-Investigator)
Prof Geraint Wiggins, Goldsmiths College, University of London (Co-Investigator)
Prof Jon Whittle, Lancaster University (Co-Investigator)
Dr Sarah Sharples, University of Nottingham (Co-Investigator)
Prof Ann Blandford, University College London (Co-Investigator)

Bespoke 2DJCAD Team

Mel Woods (Principal Investigator)
Dr Debbie Maxwell (Research Assistant)
Jamie Shek (Research Assistant)
Euan Smith (Web Developer)
Dan Norton (PhD candidate)

Context and background

The World Wide Web and the increasing ubiquity of computing has allowed us to make many positive changes in our society and environment, for example through social networking and e-publishing, but it also presents problems, by its very nature. There is now so much information being spread so quickly that it is becoming impossible for individuals to be aware of enough of it, or to take full advantage of it.

Existing search tools allow us to find information by directly matching the keywords that we search for. This is clearly useful, but its down side is that we are less likely than before to notice peripheral or tangential things, situations, knowledge or people who are relevant to us. Serendipity, otherwise known as a ‘happy accident’, has a long history of being instrumental in creativity and great scientific discovery – how can we harness the potential of the vast store of data now available, but still allow serendipitous thoughts, ideas and inspirations to emerge? SerenA is a multidisciplinary project that brings together a world leading team of researchers to understand the role of serendipity and design technologies,in order to support innovation in research.

Aims and objectives

SerenA, is concerned with the design and implementation of state-of-the-art technology, and the situations and environments, which will enable knowledge and connections, relating research and people within their local environment to promote things that users did not know they needed to know. The aim is to draw human and machine closer together than ever before, enhancing its users’ knowledge and their ability to interact with people likely to be important to them. The impact of the research will not only be of benefit across disciplines: it will be relevant to everyone interested in learning and discovery, of whatever kind.


The team will design, deploy and test a Serendipity Arena, (SerenA) that will harness new technologies and the potential of the vast store of linked data now available on the World Wide Web; to facilitate serendipity and support ideas, inspirations and new connections in the virtual and physical world. SerenA will be implemented as a physical presence at research events and in spaces such as the British Library via personal technology, such as smartphones, and by public facing technology embedded in those locations.

The focus of dissemination activities will be towards those establishments and industries most likely to benefit, with significant opportunities for research in cultural heritage, creative reasoning, linked data and future technologies. Results will be released in various forums with initial SerenA mobile prototype user testing in April 2012 and subsequent releases in June and September. In addition, there are planned activities such as a series of HACKday’s and ‘Serendipity Salons’ in 2012 with workshops for relevant industry professionals, during which SerenA outputs will be showcased. Feedback and input from industry and advisors, in order to seek best opportunities to exploit SerenA results, are ongoing.

SerenA’s outputs to date include conference papers and journal publications, presentations, workshops and research student placements. In July 2011 an early prototype was tested at the RCUK Digital Economy Summer School, Lancaster University. In September 2011, panels took place at: Art and Science Conference ISEA 2011 Istanbul, and the Human-Computer Interaction Conference INTERACT 2011, Lisbon, Portugal. Coming Across Information Serendipitously: Part 1: A Process Model and Part 2: Classification Framework will appear in the Journal of Documentation (2012).

SerenA - click here to download PDF description